10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from September 5-7

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from September 5-7

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    The calendar now reads September, meaning it is crunch time for many sides in the thick of the playoff race in Major League Soccer. 

    As each week passes, the tension grows and the reliance on stars to deliver multiplies. 

    In the matches this weekend in MLS, a few stars will be asked to lead their respective teams to victory, but they will have to get past road blocks in the form of difficult matchups.

    Continue reading for a look at the 10 key battles to watch across the league this weekend. 

Juninho vs. Dillon Powers

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    We could talk about LA's electric attack or Colorado's defensive crisis here, but you already know plenty about both situations. 

    Instead, we are going to focus on the battle in the middle of the park between two players who don't jump into the spotlight as much. 

    Juninho is a steady force in the center of midfield for the Galaxy, and without him keeping up the tempo and holding possession, the Galaxy forwards would not have a chance to advance in attack as much.

    Dillon Powers possesses those same qualities, but he also has a killer instinct in attack that benefits Colorado. 

    If Powers can force a way past Juninho, he could challenge Jaime Penedo from distance in search of his fifth goal of the season. 

Dominic Oduro vs. Philadelphia's Full-Backs

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    In the Wednesday meeting between Toronto and Philadelphia, Dominic Oduro broke away from the Union full-backs on a few occasions, but he could not finish off any of his chances, which has been the story of his season. 

    In the return leg of the home-and-home series Saturday, Oduro should get another opportunity to ravage the wing defenders of the Union, who should end up being Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams once again. 

    Gaddis and Williams are a solid pairing on the outside of the back four, but they are both susceptible to mistakes, which is why Oduro must use his speed to barrel past them on the wing. 

    With fresh game experience in his mind from the clash at PPL Park, expect Oduro to attempt to exploit Gaddis and Williams with any chance he gets. 

Thierry Henry vs. Aurelien Collin

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    The key clash in the Eastern Conference Saturday sees New York take on Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena. 

    In a match between two sides in need of a positive result, two Frenchmen will go at it in front of the Sporting net. 

    Thierry Henry and Aurelien Collin should provide us with an entertaining physical battle, and given the emotional responses to rough play from both, it could also end up in a fierce face-to-face confrontation. 

    As we have seen this season, Henry gets even better when he is angry, which may not bode well for Collin, but we all know that the Sporting center-back is going to try and get under Henry's skin regardless. 

    Given Sporting's recent form, it may not be a smart idea for Collin to start a fracas in the box, but whenever he is involved, you can never rule that out. 

Graham Zusi vs. Chris Duvall

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    On the opposite end of the pitch at Red Bull Arena, Graham Zusi will need to play a strong game for Sporting to break their three-game losing streak. 

    Zusi's service from the wing is crucial to players like Dom Dwyer in open play, and it is a bigger weapon on set pieces when Aurelien Collin and others march forward. 

    New York right-back Chris Duvall will be tasked with containing Zusi, who primarily lines up on the left for Sporting.

    Duvall is only 22, and he is still learning the ways of the league, but for New York to earn a major victory, he will have to stop the forward progression of Zusi. 

    One key for Zusi in the match will be the return of Dwyer, who will be fresh after serving a yellow-card suspension against New England Wednesday. 

Andres Romero vs. DaMarcus Beasley

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    Sadly we will not be able to see a Justin Mapp versus DaMarcus Beasley showdown at BBVA Compass Stadium because Mapp is still injured. 

    Mapp, who didn't work with the regular group in training Tuesday, per TSN 690's Joey Alfieri, is an absolute workhorse on the right for the Impact, though Andres Romero is a solid replacement. 

    Romero should slot into the right-midfield position, and with all eyes on the red-hot Ignacio Piatti, he could find gaps in the Houston defense. 

    Beasley, who went through training without a hitch Monday, per Sebastian Salazar of CSN Houston, should be able to go for his side's first match of September. 

    If the United States World Cup veteran can play Saturday, he will be able to give the back four some stability, and use his veteran experience to keep Romero at bay while Piatti draws most of the attention.

Javier Morales vs. Matt Hedges

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    Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales will need to work a bit harder to create chances with Joao Plata away on international duty with Ecuador. 

    While Plata is the main scorer in the RSL fold, Morales is the main provider, with nine assists this season.

    Morales, who could play behind any combination of Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval or Sebastian Jaime, will have to get past FC Dallas' Matt Hedges to be a continuous menace Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. 

    Hedges has been one of the top defenders in the league this season, and he will be a part of an FC Dallas side looking to rebound after a shock loss to Chicago.

    The best way for Hedges and the rest of his defensive unit to take a step forward is to play well against a RSL side that they beat, 2-1, two weeks ago. 

    It is worth noting that Morales did not play in the two teams' most recent meeting because of an injury. 

Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud vs. Matias Laba

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    If you love juicy central-midfield battles, then you might want to tune into Saturday's clash at BC Place between Vancouver and D.C. United.

    D.C.'s midfield pairing of Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud have done well in what has been a resurgent campaign for the 2013 cellar dwellers, but the Black and Red have had a tough time against Western Conference opposition as of late. 

    Ben Olsen's side have been blown out by Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy in recent weeks, which should give Kitchen and Arnaud a bit more motivation against the Whitecaps. 

    To impact upon proceedings, they will have to out play Matias Laba, who is tied for the league lead in tackles with Portland's Diego Chara at 4.7 per game, per WhoScored.com. 

    Laba is able to agitate opposing midfielders easily because of his tackling abilities, which is something Kitchen and Arnaud will have to fight through on the turf. 

Federico Higuain vs. Nigel Reo-Coker

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    The Columbus Crew must like their chances Sunday against a Chivas USA side that conceded four goals against Seattle on Wednesday, but they must be careful not to overlook them. 

    One reason the Goats could pose a threat at Crew Stadium is the addition of Nigel Reo-Coker to the midfield. 

    Reo-Coker will look to bring some physicality to the pitch, and he will have to rough up Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain to give his side a chance to earn a point on the road. 

    Higuain pulls most of the strings in the Columbus attack, which features plenty of youth, inexperience and unpredictability. 

    If Reo-Coker can nullify Gonzalo's older brother, Chivas USA could pull off a miracle and get a result. 

Darlington Nagbe vs. Jordan Stewart

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    Sunday may be the day the fans of the United States men's national team get to continue their love affair with Darlington Nagbe.

    Nagbe, who is not yet a citizen of the United States, is one of the most talked about players in the potential selection pool for Russia in 2018, but he has not had a terrific season. 

    He could begin to erase a bad 2014 with a strong showing against San Jose, a team that has been torn to shreds by a few different sides in recent weeks. 

    The man who will be opposing Nagbe on the pitch is Jordan Stewart, whose shaky defending led to a penalty against Real Salt Lake last week. 

    If Stewart fails to figure out Nagbe this time around, he will have two more times to crack the code during a home-and-home series in October. 

Lee Nguyen vs. Razvan Cocis

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    If you don't have Lee Nguyen on your Most Valuable Player shortlist, you should go ahead and edit it now. 

    Nguyen has willed the Revolution back up to third place in the East, and his presence has given the team a good opportunity to pick up three more points at home against the Fire on Sunday. 

    The New England midfielder did not play in the last game between the two sides, and neither did Razvan Cocis, who has made four straight starts in the middle of the pitch for Chicago.

    Last week, Cocis gave his best performance in a Fire uniform, and he was integral in shutting down the FC Dallas attack during a surprising home victory. 

    The 31-year-old will have a tall test on his hands at Gillette Stadium, but he could hold the keys to a second big win in a row for Frank Yallop's side. 

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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